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State Department ‘trying to confirm’ arrest of Nigeria gays

Department of State, gay news, Washington Blade

The State Department says it’s looking into the veracity of reports that gay activists are being arrested in Nigeria. (Photo public domain)

The State Department is looking into media reports that authorities in Nigeria are arresting dozens of LGBT activists in the aftermath of passage of an anti-gay law in the country.

Under questioning from the Washington Blade, State Department Deputy Spokesperson Marie Harf said reports of arrests in Nigeria are “very troubling” if true.

“We’re trying to confirm those reports,” Harf said. “I’ve seen them. We don’t know if they’re true or not. If they are true, that would obviously be very troubling. Again, our team is continuing to check on the ground to get new facts to see what’s actually going on.”

According to a report on Tuesday from the Associated Press, human rights activists in Nigeria  claim police are working off a list of 168 suspects — purportedly obtained through torture — to arrest dozens of gay men in the country. A police official reportedly denied any use of torture, and accounts of the number of arrests vary from as low as 11 to as high as 38.

Shawn Gaylord, advocacy counsel to Human Rights First, said the reports of arrests demonstrate the impact of the new anti-gay law in Nigeria, which was signed last week by Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan.

“This is truly the worst case scenario,” Gaylord said. “When discriminatory bills like this are passed, we are always concerned that they set the stage for violence and ill treatment in society even when they are not enforced. But the fact that this law is being enforced so quickly and forcefully demonstrates the full extent of Nigeria’s human rights crisis.”

Under the new anti-gay law in Nigeria, same-sex marriage and same-sex “amorous relationships” are banned as well as membership in LGBT groups. The statute contains a provision allowing punishment of up to 14 years in prison for attempting to enter into a same-sex marriage.

After being unable to answer some questions from the podium on Monday for the Blade regarding the anti-gay law, Harf on Tuesday offered some answers.

For starters, after saying that passage of the law is inconsistent with Nigeria’s international legal obligations, Harf was able to identify which obligation the law violates: the International Covenant on Civil & Political Rights. Nigeria joined the 167-party agreement that aims to protect the civil and political rights of individuals in 1993.

“The Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Act not only prohibits same-sex marriage in Nigeria; it also includes broadly worded provisions implicating the rights to the freedoms of expression, peaceful assembly and association that are set forth in the ICCPR,” Harf said. “So, when we were talking about international law, that’s what we were referring to.”

Harf also clarified which U.S. officials spoke with officials in Nigeria prior to passage of the anti-gay law, saying they consisted of individuals at the U.S. Embassy in Abuja, the U.S. consulate general in Lagos and Washington officials. These officials, Harf said, helped Nigerians who support LGBT rights chart a course to “support the LGBT community there and to help Nigerians who are opposed to discrimination against the LGBT community.”

Still, Harf said she didn’t have an answer to a previous inquiry about whether U.S. officials had any knowledge that Jonathan would sign the legislation before he took that action.

Will Stevens, a State Department spokesperson, later said the U.S. government has been monitoring the legislation for some time.

“We have been closely monitoring the progress of this law as it moved through the legislative process and have engaged regularly with the [government of Nigeria] and civil society on our concerns about the proposed legislation,” Stevens said.

Additionally, Harf said she didn’t have any announcements about conversations the U.S. would have in the future about the Nigerian government on the anti-gay law, but said the administration would continue to voice concerns given the opportunity.

“One thing I learned to do is not make predictions from the podium about anything,” Harf said. “Like I said, I don’t have anything to announce about any conversations. We regularly raise it. I’ve been very clear from here about our position. If we have any updates, then I’m happy to let you know.”

Also on Tuesday, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay spoke out against the anti-gay law, marking the first statement against the statute by the intergovernmental organization.

“International human rights law and jurisprudence clearly indicate that states have a legal duty to protect all individuals from violations of their human rights, including on the basis of their sexual orientation,” Pillay said. “Disapproval of homosexuality by the majority on moral or religious grounds does not justify criminalizing or discriminating against LGBT persons.”

Pillay urged the high court in Nigeria to examine the constitutionality of the new law at the next opportunity.

For its part, Harf acknowledged the State Department is concerned that passage of the anti-gay law in Nigeria represents a growing trend of anti-gay activity in Africa.

“We are deeply concerned by some of the recent developments we have seen in Africa with respect to human rights of LGBT individuals, including passage of the ‘Anti-Homosexuality Bill’ by Uganda’s parliament and also increasing arrest of LGBT individuals in countries, such as Cameroon and Zambia,” Harf said. “Human rights are a cornerstone of our foreign policy; we say this all the time, and we will continue to support the efforts of our human defenders in Africa and across the globe who are working to end discrimination against LGBT persons.”


Understanding Israel in all its complexity

Tel Aviv, Israel, gay news, Washington Blade, gay pride

Tel Aviv gay pride. (Photo via Wikimedia Commons)


History matters. Facts matter. Both were tossed to the wind by Pauline Park in a recent op-ed in the Washington Blade, who assailed the American Jewish Committee and its signature Project Interchange program. Without any explanation, she asserted that AJC “is aggressive in its defense of the Israeli occupation of Palestine.”

Nonsense! AJC, of course, is a strong advocate for an Israel that thrives in peace and security, and continues to support a negotiated two-state solution to achieve sustainable Israeli-Palestinian peace. As a global advocacy organization, AJC has brought that message to the top leaders of many countries, including Arab nations.

But Park’s baseless accusation is the foundation for her criticizing American LGBT community leaders who participated in an educational visit to Israel and the West Bank with AJC’s Project Interchange. For over 30 years, more than 6,000 leaders from across the United States and 84 other countries have participated in Project Interchange’s unique, weeklong educational seminars in Israel.

Project Interchange’s success is rooted in its non-ideological approach. By introducing first-time visitors to a broad range of Israelis, who offer diverse narratives across the political, social and religious spectrum, seminar participants gain an appreciation for Israel as a dynamic diverse society. What’s more, AJC’s Project Interchange participants travel to the West Bank, where they meet with a range of Palestinian leaders, including at the highest levels of the Palestinian Authority.

Yes, Israel has challenges like other democratic nations, though Israel’s challenges have special significance given the history of the conflict and its neighborhood. Project Interchange is not afraid to show Israel in all its complexity, “warts and all.” What visitors find is a robust democratic nation, where, among other things, there are freedoms of speech, religion and sexual orientation. Indeed, Tel Aviv was named the No. 1 gay city in the world in a broad survey by and American Airlines.

The LGBT delegation that visited Israel in October fulfilled AJC’s desire to introduce this important segment of American society to Israel. When it comes to understanding Israel, there is simply no substitute for first-hand, on-the-ground experience. The group seized the opportunities to engage directly with Israelis and Palestinians in open conversations. As part of their program, the LGBT delegation visited Ramallah, as do other Project Interchange groups, to engage with Palestinian leaders. Regrettably, Palestinian LGBT groups rejected the opportunity to meet with their U.S. counterparts.

Park, however, as a member of the New York City Queers Against Israeli Apartheid, offers a preconceived, politically myopic view of Israel. One has to wonder whether she or any members of her delegation met with, or even expressed a desire to meet with, any mainstream Israelis on her 2012 visit to the region. Moreover, one cannot help but wonder whether her use of the term “occupation” refers to the period since June 1967, following Israel’s war of survival, or to 1948, when Israel was established as an independent country following a UN recommendation.

Let’s remember that a Palestinian state could have been established at the same time. The UN Partition Plan of 1947 divided the British Mandate into two states, one Jewish and one Arab. That was the original two-state solution. But the Arabs rejected that concept. Sixty-six years later the two-state solution is still on the table.

And, let’s recall Israel did not set out to govern the Palestinians. Israel came to rule over Gaza and the West Bank not by choice, but in a defensive war in June 1967, when neighboring Arab states — particularly Egypt and Syria — threatened time and again to overrun and destroy the young country.

Israel has tried relentlessly to find negotiating partners to exchange land for peace. Egypt and Jordan signed peace treaties in 1979 and 1994. But the Palestinian leadership rebuffed Israel’s substantial peace offers in 2000, in 2001 and again in 2008. These historical facts are ignored by Park, her organization and other supporters of the BDS (boycott, divestment, sanction) anti-Israel movement, which at its core dismisses Israel’s right to exist.

Our utmost hope is that the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations, with the key assistance of the U.S., will yield an enduring agreement. Both peoples deserve to live in peace and security. Tellingly, Park and her organization don’t seem to share the same goals for one of those peoples.

Stuart Kurlander is a board member of AJC Washington; Alan Ronkin is executive director of AJC’s Washington regional office.


U.N. report criticizes Vatican over anti-gay rhetoric, sex abuse

Pope Francis, Catholic Church, gay news, Washington Blade

Pope Francis. (Photo by Agência Brasil; courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

A U.N. committee has sharply criticized the Vatican over its opposition to homosexuality and other issues.

“The committee is concerned about the Holy See’s past statements and declarations on homosexuality which contribute to the social stigmatization of and violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender adolescents and children raised by same sex couples,” said the U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child in a report it released on Wednesday.

The committee described Pope Francis’ statement last July that gay men and lesbians should not be judged or marginalized as “progressive” and “positive.” The U.N. body nevertheless urged the Catholic Church to address discrimination against gay and lesbian children and those born to unmarried parents.

“The committee also urges the Holy See to make full use of its moral authority to condemn all forms of harassment, discrimination or violence against children based on their sexual orientation or the sexual orientation of their parents and to support efforts at international level for the decriminalization of homosexuality,” reads the report.

The report also criticized the Vatican over its response to the sex abuse crisis within the Catholic Church.

“The committee is gravely concerned that the Holy See has not acknowledged the extent of the crimes committed, has not taken the necessary measures to address cases of child sexual abuse and to protect children, and has adopted policies and practices which have led to the continuation of the abuse by and the impunity of the perpetrators,” it said.

The committee also criticized the Holy See over its ongoing opposition to abortion, access to contraception and information about sexual and reproductive health.

The Associated Press reported that Archbishop Silvano Tomasi on Wednesday said LGBT advocacy groups and those who back marriage rights for same-sex couples “reinforced an ideological line” with the committee.

The report’s release comes against the backdrop of Francis’ ongoing efforts to temper the Vatican’s rhetoric against homosexuality, marriage rights for same-sex couples and other social issues since he succeeded Pope Benedict XVI last March.

“We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods,” said Francis during an extensive interview that La Civiltà Cattolica, an Italian Jesuit magazine, published last September. “When we speak about these issues, we have to talk about them in a context. The teaching of the church, for that matter, is clear and I am a son of the church, but it is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time.”

Francis, who is the former archbishop of Buenos Aires, in 2001 kissed and washed the feet of 12 people with AIDS during a visit to a local hospice. He also spearheaded opposition to Argentina’s same-sex marriage law that President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner signed in 2010.

Fernández sharply criticized then-Buenos Aires Archbishop Jorge Bergoglio after he categorized the gay nuptials measure as a “demonic plan” and called for a “holy war” against it.

Esteban Paulón, president of the LGBT Federation of Argentina, on Twitter questioned what the Advocate — which named Francis as their 2013 person of the year — and Rolling Stone — which placed him on the cover of the magazine’s Jan. 29 issue — would say “about their idol the pope after the U.N.’s definitive report about sexual abuse and cover-up”

“Beyond the nice declarations about sexual diversity, Francis and the Vatican cannot continue turning their backs to the reality that it has affected the lives of millions of boys and girls around the world,” Paulón told the Washington Blade from New York where he and six other Latin American LGBT rights advocates are on a U.S. State Department-sponsored trip. “They clearly demonstrate a network of guaranteed impunity from senior Vatican officials (including the pope) for those criminals.”

Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry in Mount Rainier, Md., also welcomed the U.N. report.

“Many government leaders around the world and many Catholics in the pews have expressed the opinions that report articulated so clearly that the Vatican’s negative messages against LGBT people cause violence, harm and in some cases death,” he said.

DeBernardo added he expects Francis will respond to the report because “a prestigious organization like the U.N. puts weight behind that message.”


Ban Ki-moon highlights LGBT rights during Sochi speech

Athlete Ally, All Out, IOC, International Olympic Committee, Russia, Sochi, gay news, Washington Blade

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on Thursday noted Principle 6 of the Olympic Charter “enshrines” the International Olympic Committee’s “opposition to any form of discrimination.” (Photo courtesy of All Out)

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on Thursday called for an end to anti-LGBT discrimination and violence during a speech in Sochi, Russia, that coincided the start of the 2014 Winter Olympics.

“We must all raise our voices against attacks on lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or intersex people,” said Ban during remarks he gave during an International Olympic Committee meeting. “We must oppose the arrests, imprisonments and discriminatory restrictions they face.”

Ban did not specifically reference Russia’s controversial law banning gay propaganda to minors during his speech. He noted “many professional athletes, gay and straight, are speaking out against prejudice.”

“I know that Principle 6 of the Olympic Charter enshrines the IOC’s opposition to any form of discrimination,” said Ban.

Ban’s comments come nearly two months after the U.N. used the 65th anniversary of the ratification of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to highlight efforts to combat homophobia and transphobia in sports.

Gay MSNBC anchor Thomas Roberts moderated a Dec. 10 panel at the U.N. on which retired tennis champion Martina Navratilova, former Washington Wizards center Jason Collins, South African activist Thandeka “Tumi” Mkhuma, intersex advocate Huda Viloria, Anastasia Smirnova of the Russian LGBT Network and U.N. Assistant Secretary General for Human Rights Ivan Simonovic sat. Singer Melissa Etheridge is among those who also attended the event.

The U.N. last July announced its “Free and Equal” campaign designed to increase support for LGBT rights around the world. Singers Ricky Martin and Daniela Mercury and Bollywood actress Celina Jaitly are among those who back the effort.

“The United Nations stands strongly behind our own ‘Free and Equal’ campaign,” said Ban in Sochi. “I look forward to working with the IOC, Governments and other partners around the world to build societies of equality and tolerance.”


U.N. says anti-gay Nigerian law could hurt health

Nigeria, Nigerian embassy, protest, gay news, Washington Blade, U.N.

(Washington Blade file photo by Damien Salas)

ABUJA, Nigeria — The U.N. human rights chief expressed concern last week that Nigeria’s new anti-gay law may have negative consequences on public health there, the AP reports. Navi Pillay says the law could hinder government, civil and religious groups from delivering HIV education and preventative care and deter gay and transgender people from seeking services.

She told Justice Minister Mohammed Adoke at a meeting on March 13 that the Same-Sex Marriage Prohibition Act violates fundamental human rights and the Nigerian constitution.

Adoke said the laws “do not criminalize individual sexual orientation.” He indicated there would be no consideration for Pillay’s call for a moratorium on prosecutions, the AP said.

The minister said a poll showed 92 percent of Nigerians support the law. It further criminalizes homosexuality as well as people working in HIV/AIDS programs for gays, who have a much higher infection rate, the article said.


Activist tells U.N. panel LGBT people face ‘brutal’ violence

Kenita Placide, United and Strong, St. Lucia, gay news, Washington Blade

Kenita Placide of United and Strong, an LGBT rights group in St. Lucia, on March 20 testified before the U.N. Committee on the Status of Women. (Photo courtesy of United and Strong)

A St. Lucian LGBT rights advocate told a U.N. commission last week that lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people around the world face “brutal physical and psychological violence”

“Globally, lesbians, bisexuals, transgender people and others with diverse sexual orientations and gender identities face brutal physical and psychological violence,” said Kenita Placide of United and Strong, Inc., in a statement she read on behalf of 76 organizations from 28 countries during a U.N. Commission on the Status of Women meeting in New York on March 20. “We are subjected to harassment, assault and discrimination in the global North and South alike.”

Placide read the statement on behalf of the Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Caucus. United Belize Advocacy Movement, AIDS Foundation of Suriname, Minority Rights Dominica, Space for Salvadoran Lesbian Women for Diversity in El Salvador, the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, Amnesty International and the Council for Global Equality are among the groups that signed onto it.

“Realities and fears of violence and discrimination have direct impact on people’s ability to live safely, earn a living, have roofs over their heads and to be healthy,” reads the statement. “When people are persecuted because of their real or perceived sexual orientation, gender expression or gender identity, they will be forced to recede, go underground, forfeit privacy and personal and family safety, even as they resist, organize and fight for justice at great personal risk in the North and South alike.”

St. Lucia is among the more than 70 countries in which homosexuality remains criminalized.

The U.S. is among the countries that have curtailed aid to Uganda after the country’s president, Yoweri Museveni, last month signed a bill into law that imposes a life sentence upon anyone found guilty of repeated same-sex sexual acts. Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan in January signed a draconian anti-gay measure that, among other things, bans same-sex “amorous relationships” and membership in an LGBT advocacy group.

The Jamaica Supreme Court last June heard a lawsuit that challenges the island’s anti-sodomy law under which those who are convicted face up to 10 years in prison with hard labor. The Supreme Court of the Judicature of Belize a month earlier heard a challenge to an identical statute the United Belize Advocacy Movement filed in 2010.

“The criminalization of adult consensual sexual activity and our communities, along with efforts by political and religious authorities to manipulate and stoke fears about sexual orientation and gender identity, only makes matters worse,” said the LBT Caucus in the statement that Placide read. “Whether at the national level or at the CSW (U.N. Commission on the Status of Women), decision makers must stop using these issues and our lives for their geopolitical gain.”

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon discussed anti-LGBT violence and discrimination in a video message during a panel with retired tennis champion Martina Navratilova, current Brooklyn Nets center Jason Collins and others that commemorated the 65th anniversary of the ratification of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

“An abuse against any of us is an affront to all,” said Ban. “Human rights can only be visible when we stand in solidarity as one.”

Vice President Joe Biden on March 22 said the U.S. should “champion” LGBT rights around the world during a speech at the Human Rights Campaign’s annual dinner in Los Angeles.

“I travelled to most countries in the world, and I can tell you, they’re looking to us as an example, as a champion of LGBT rights everywhere,” said Biden.


Samantha Power: Russia gay propaganda law is ‘outrageous’

Samantha Power, United Nations, Obama Administration, gay news, Washington Blade

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power (Photo by Eric Bridiers; courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

NEW YORK–U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power on Tuesday strongly criticized Russia’s law that bans gay propaganda to minors.

“The recent enactment of Russia’s anti-propaganda law is as outrageous as it is dangerous,” she said as she opened a meeting with more than 30 LGBT rights advocates at the U.S. Mission to the U.N. “It is a reminder that whether the struggle of equality takes the form of equal employee benefits or protection from being imprisoned or executed, we have a long way to go.”

Power also noted during her speech that coincides with the 65th anniversary of the ratification of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that 78 countries continue to criminalize consensual same-sex sexual activity. Homosexuality remains punishable by death in Mauritania, Sudan, Iran, Saudi Arabia and northern Nigeria.

“To criticize the criminalization of LGBT status is not cultural imperialism,” said Power. “To deny gays and lesbians the right to live freely and to threaten them with discrimination and even death is not a form of moral or religious Puritanism. It’s in fact barbarism.”

Power also stressed the death of former South African President Nelson Mandela last week “reminds us of what one fearless and passionate voice can achieve when raised in a righteous cause.” Her comments came hours after President Obama made a veiled reference to LGBT rights during his speech at the memorial service for the anti-Apartheid champion in Johannesburg.

National Security Advisor Susan Rice last week said in a speech she gave during Human Rights First’s annual summit in D.C. that LGBT rights remain an essential part of U.S. foreign policy.

Lesbian Russian journalist Masha Gessen and Juliet Mphande, executive director of Rainka Zambia, spoke during the meeting with Power before the Washington Blade and the handful of reporters from other media outlets were asked to leave the room. Turkish Parliamentarian Melda Onur, Wilson Castañera of the Colombian LGBT advocacy group Caribe Afirmativo and Center for Global Equality Chair Mark Bromley were among those who also attended the roundtable.

Gay former Washington Wizards center Jason Collins, retired tennis champion Martina Navratilova, Anastasia Smirnova of the Russian LGBT Network and others are scheduled to take part in a panel at the U.N. later on Tuesday that gay MSNBC anchor is scheduled to moderate.


Jason Collins ‘ready’ for NBA team to sign him

Jason Collins Washington Wizards screenshot via YouTube

Jason Collins (Screenshot via YouTube)

NEW YORK—Former Washington Wizards center Jason Collins told the Washington Blade on Tuesday that his sexual orientation is not a factor in the fact he remains unsigned more than six months after coming out.

“There’s a lot of speculation as to why I haven’t signed,” Collins said during an interview that took place as he attended a Manhattan fundraiser for the LGBT advocacy group United for Equality in Sports and Entertainment. “I choose to focus on what I can control and that’s how hard I work out.”

Collins on April 29 became the first male athlete who actively played in a major American professional sports league to come out as gay when Sports Illustrated published his op-ed on its website. The former Wizards center’s interview with the Blade is the first time he has spoken to an LGBT media outlet since he publicly declared his sexual orientation.

CBS News over the summer reported the Detroit Pistons and the Brooklyn Nets passed on signing Collins. The deadline for teams to send their playoff rosters to the NBA is March 1.

“That’s the ultimate deadline,” Collins told the Blade. “But up until that date I’m going to continue to work out, continue to train. I consider myself a free agent and I’m ready when and if an NBA team calls my name.”

Collins has become an increasingly visible LGBT rights advocate since coming out.

He has attended events for the Human Rights Campaign; GLAAD; the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network; the Trevor Project and the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center. He also marched in Boston’s annual Pride parade in June with Massachusetts Congressman Joseph P. Kennedy, III, with whom he lived while they attended Stanford University.

Collins in May headlined a Manhattan fundraiser for the Democratic National Committee’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Leadership Council with First Lady Michelle Obama. He introduced Macklemore and Ryan Lewis at the MTV Video Music Awards in August before they performed their song “Same Love” that advocates for marriage rights for same-sex couples.

Collins spoke with the Blade during the United for Equality in Sports and Entertainment fundraiser that took place hours after he joined retired tennis champion Martina Navratilova, South African activist Thandeka “Tumi” Mkhuma, intersex advocate Huda Viloria, Anastasia Smirnova of the Russian LGBT Network and U.N. Assistant Secretary General for Human Rights Ivan Simonovic on a United Nations panel that gay MSNBC anchor Thomas Roberts moderated.

The former Wizards center described Navratilova, who came out as a lesbian in 1981, as “one of my heroes.”

Collins said Navratilova e-mailed him after he came out. The two met face-to-face for the first time on Tuesday before the U.N. panel.

“Growing up she was so dominant, such a great role model and an example of someone who lived her life on and off the court,” he said. “[She] exemplified everything as far as being a winner and then also empowers others by just being vocal. I can’t say enough good things about her.”

President Obama, NBA Commissioner David Stern, Wizards President Ernie Grunfeld, Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers, Oprah Winfrey and D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray are among those who applauded Collins for coming out. Several of the former Wizards center’s then-D.C. teammates also praised his decision to publicly disclose his sexual orientation.

“I wasn’t expecting a call from the president when I made my announcement,” Collins said. “I was extremely humbled to get a call from him and so many other celebrities, in addition to friends and former teammates, coaches, fans. It’s been really overwhelming the response to my announcement.”


Sports highlighted during U.N. human rights declaration anniversary

Martina Navratilova, tennis, gay news, Washington Blade, sports

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on Dec. 10, 2013, said Martina Navratilova “inspired” him. (Photo courtesy of John Wright Photo)

UNITED NATIONS—LGBT activists this week used the 65th anniversary of the ratification of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights at the U.N. to highlight efforts to combat homophobia and transphobia in sports.

Gay MSNBC anchor Thomas Roberts on Dec. 10 moderated a U.N. panel at the U.N. on which retired tennis champion Martina Navratilova, former Washington Wizards center Jason Collins, South African activist Thandeka “Tumi” Mkhuma, intersex advocate Huda Viloria, Anastasia Smirnova of the Russian LGBT Network and U.N. Assistant Secretary General for Human Rights Ivan Simonovic sat. Singer Melissa Etheridge and Jessica Stern, executive director of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, were among those who also attended the event.

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said in a video that Navratilova, who came out in 1981, “inspired” him. He added the retired tennis champion “paved the way for” Collins and other LGBT athletes to publicly declare their sexual orientation or gender identity and expression.

“They understand an abuse against any of us is an affront to all,” said Ban. “Human rights can only be visible when we stand in solidarity as one.”

Smirnova said the attention the Kremlin’s LGBT rights record has received ahead of the 2014 Winter Olympics that will take place in Sochi, Russia, in February has allowed her organization to “shed light on the most ugly developments happening in the country.” She added the Olympics and other international sporting events can be “a great celebration of excellence and diversity.”

“As a celebration of diversity, it has great potential to show common universal commitment to humanity, to show dignity, to show international solidarity with those who are experiencing hardships,” said Smirnova.

Mkhuma paid tribute to former South African President Nelson Mandela during the panel, noting he unified his country through sports. The anti-Apartheid champion presented the 1995 Rugby World Cup championship trophy to Francois Pienaar, a white South African who was the then-captain of the Springboks, while wearing the team jersey with his number.

Mkhuma said her stepfather, who is a pastor, kicked her out of her home when she was 16 because she is a lesbian. South African authorities have yet to arrest the person who beat and raped her in 2009.

Mkhuma said the lesbian soccer team she joined has become her family and “my community.”

“As a survivor of rape, it is still hard for me to live in South Africa,” she said as her voice quivered and Navratilova comforted her. “It is all our responsibility to end hate and to end violence.”

The U.N. General Assembly on Dec. 10, 1948, ratified the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The U.N. in 2011 adopted a resolution in support of LGBT rights.

“The [U.N.'s] Universal Declaration of Human Rights promises a world in which everyone is born free and equal in dignity and rights — no exceptions, no one left behind,” said U.N. High Commission for Human Rights Navi Pillay in July during a Cape Town, South Africa, press conference at which the U.N. launched a campaign in support of global LGBT rights. “Yet it’s still a hollow promise for many millions of LGBT people forced to confront hatred, intolerance, violence and discrimination on a daily basis.”

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power on Tuesday described the Russian law that bans gay propaganda to minors as “outrageous” and “dangerous” during a meeting with nearly 30 LGBT rights advocates at the U.S. Mission to the U.N. in New York that IGLHRC organized. Turkish Parliamentarian Melda Onur, Maria Fontenelle of the St. Lucian LGBT advocacy group United and Strong, Thilaga Sulathireh of the Malaysian organization Justice for Sisters and Family Equality Council Executive Director Gabriel Blau are among those who attended the roundtable.

LGBT rights advocates from Namibia, Malawi, Cameroon, Zimbabwe and other African countries also took part in an IGLHRC briefing in lower Manhattan on Dec. 9.

“To deny gays and lesbians the right to live freely and to threaten them with discrimination and even death is not a form of moral or religious Puritanism,” said Power. “It’s in fact barbarism.”

Etheridge joined “Milk” producer Bruce Cohen and Smirnova on Dec. 9 for the formal launch of the “Uprising of Love” campaign that seeks to support LGBT Russians. Collins is among those who attended a Manhattan fundraiser for United for Equality in Sports and Entertainment the following day.

U.S. Ambassador to Japan Caroline Kennedy on Dec. 5 held a reception at her Tokyo residence to commemorate the ratification of Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Gay Pennsylvania state Rep. Brian Sims is among those who spoke.

“Today, we recognize that human rights include women’s rights, reproductive rights, racial and ethnic justice, the rights of the ill and infirmed, the rights of the differently abled, and the rights of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities,” said Sims in his speech.


United Nations unveils global LGBT rights campaign

Ricky Martin, music, HRC National Dinner, gay news, Washington Blade

Ricky Martin is among those who supports a new U.N. campaign in support of LGBT rights (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The United Nations on Friday officially launched a public education campaign designed to increase support for LGBT rights around the world.

The year-long effort, which the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights unveiled during a press conference in Cape Town, South Africa, seeks to raise awareness of anti-LGBT violence and discrimination and encourage what it describes as “greater respect for the rights of LGBT people.”

The “Free & Equal” campaign will stress what a press release described as the “need for both legal reforms and public education to counter homophobia and transphobia.” The Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights will also produce a number of videos that are similar to the one it released in May to mark the annual International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu and gay South African Constitutional Court Justice Edwin Cameron, who lives with HIV, joined U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay at the Cape Town press conference.

“Changing attitudes is never easy. But it has happened on other issues and it is happening already in many parts of the world on this one,” Pillay said. “It begins with often difficult conversations. And that is what we want to do with this campaign. ‘Free & Equal’ will inspire millions of conversations among people around the world and across the ideological spectrum.”

The U.N. in 2011 adopted a resolution in support of LGBT rights.

South Africa is among the 11 countries in which gays and lesbians can legally marry, but more than 70 countries continue to criminalize consensual same-sex sexual acts.

An increasing number of LGBT rights advocates have called for a boycott of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, and Russian vodka in response to recently enacted laws that ban so-called gay propaganda and same-sex couples from other countries from adopting Russian children. Four Dutch LGBT advocates returned to the Netherlands earlier this week after authorities in the Russian city of Murmansk arrested them under the country’s anti-gay propaganda law after they interviewed a teenager for a documentary on gay life in Russia.

The reported murder of a cross-dressing teenager near the Jamaican resort city of Montego Bay earlier this week sparked outrage among LGBT rights advocates in the Caribbean nation. The U.S. State Department and Human Rights Watch are among the groups that condemned the killing of prominent Cameroonian LGBT rights advocate Eric Ohena Lembembe who was found dead inside his home in the country’s capital on July 15.

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe earlier this month sparked controversy when he said during a campaign rally ahead of his country’s July 31 elections that authorities should arrest gays and lesbians who don’t conceive children.

“The [U.N.'s] Universal Declaration of Human Rights promises a world in which everyone is born free and equal in dignity and rights — no exceptions, no one left behind,” Pillay said. “Yet it’s still a hollow promise for many millions of LGBT people forced to confront hatred, intolerance, violence and discrimination on a daily basis.”

Singers Ricky Martin and Daniela Mercury and Bollywood actress Celina Jaitly are among those who have pledged to support the campaign.